total order


Definition: An order defined for all pairs of items of a set. For instance, ≤ (less than or equal to) is a total order on integers, that is, for any two integers, one of them is less than or equal to the other.

Formal Definition: A total order is a relation that is reflexive, transitive, antisymmetric, and total.

Also known as linear order.

See also partial order, chain.

Note: Subset (⊆) is partial not total, since {a} is not a subset of {b}, nor is {b} a subset of {a}. The sets {a} and {b} are incomparable.

How could an order be total, but not transitive? If it is cyclic, like in the game Paper, Scissors, Rock.

Authors: PEB,PJT

Go to the Dictionary of Algorithms and Data Structures home page.

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Entry modified 30 March 2006.
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Cite this as:
Paul E. Black and Paul J. Tanenbaum, "total order", in Dictionary of Algorithms and Data Structures [online], Vreda Pieterse and Paul E. Black, eds. 30 March 2006. (accessed TODAY) Available from: